The Alexandria Library's Special Collections division has a wide range of resources available to help you investigate the history of your home. Using both primary and secondary sources, you can uncover information about past owners, property values, alterations and improvements, and perhaps even find a photograph or two. This list of resources is designed to help you get started on your research; it tells you the type of information you are likely to find in a resource and how that resource is organized. The sources in this guide focus primarily on Old Town Alexandria.
In addition to the materials in this guide, the library holds several published works that focus on particular properties. Resources have been assembled on some of the better-known historical structures in Alexandria, and archaeological reports are available for other, lesser-known properties. A search of the library catalog for a particular address may turn up additional material.
From 1791-1846, the area that is now the City of Alexandria and Arlington County (then known as Alexandria County) was a part of Washington, D.C. There may be information about your house or its owners in D.C. records.
Areas that are now incorporated into the City of Alexandria were once part of Fairfax and Arlington Counties. There may also be material in the records of these two counties that will be useful to you.
The current street numbering system in Alexandria was not instituted until 1888. If your house history research takes you back beyond this point, the houses will be numbered differently than they are now.
The resources in this section can all be accessed by the address of the house, information that is likely to be available to the beginning researcher. These sources may lead to information about the owners of the property; dates when property was built, changed hands, or was altered; and the types of alterations that were done to the house.
Ethelyn Cox Manuscript Collection --Manuscript Collection Box 287
Of primary interest to the house hunter are Cox's notes and research for Historic Alexandria. These include information about the sources she consulted, correspondence, and drafts of the text of the book. Like the book, the series is arranged by street. The Cox collection also includes materials related to her work with the Historic Alexandria Foundation.
Historic American Buildings Survey Drawings -- Map Collection Drawers 21, 22, 23
Architectural drawings are available for several of the better-known historic properties in Old Town, including Lloyd House, Carlyle House, the Lyceum, and Gadsby's Tavern.
Hopkins 1877 Atlas of Alexandria -- Microfilm Reel 00476; Map Collection
This map, which dates from before the change in the street numbering system, can be helpful in trying to identify the old-style address of a property.
The different photograph collections contain many pictures of Alexandria buildings. Of special interest is the Cox Photograph Collection, which has prints of the photos used in Historic Alexandria. In the finding aid, photographs of buildings are grouped together by street.
Plumbing Permits -- Manuscript Collection Boxes 46A-46J
These permits, which cover the years 1936-1939, record the installation of running water in houses. They contain information about the owner of the house, the kind of house it was, what improvements were to be made, whether the house was old or new, and the name of the plumber who did the work. The permits are organized by street name, with all permits from the same street grouped together.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps -- Microfilm Reel 00121
These detailed maps of the City of Alexandria, which are at street level and show every building, are an excellent resource for determining approximate dates for the construction or demolition of a particular building, its function, and the materials that were used to construct it.
Also available online from the Library of Virginia. Get a Library of Virginia Library Card here.
The Tax Assessor's Handiwork: Alexandria's Historic Structures Online
Images of the documents related to a special property tax assessment conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s to document over 6,000 structures in Old Town. The original records are held at the City of Alexandria Archives and Records Center.
Files of information relating to commonly-researched topics, including materials on neighborhoods, streets, and historic properties. Also, the vertical files contain information about the Historic Alexandria Foundation, including details about their House Plaque Program.
The materials in this section are most useful to researchers who have already worked with some of the sources in Part I, or who already have information about the owners of the houses they are researching. Most of these sources are arranged by the name of the property owner, making that information essential for researchers who intend to use these sources.
Alexandria City & Fairfax County Records on Microfilm
Details about houses or property may be found in the personal papers of their owners. Once the name of the owner or the owner’s family is known, manuscript materials may be found that provide more information about a house. There is a subject index to the manuscript collections, and finding aids exist for many collections as well.
Northern Virginia Telephone Books
The library holds a small, incomplete collection of local telephone books that includes books from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The telephone books are useful for tracking the more recent history of a building.
Alexandria Archives and Records Center
The Archives & Records Center provides records management, off-site storage, and reference services to City of Alexandria agencies.
Alexandria Clerk of Circuit Court
The court has indexes and land records dating from the 1800s. Their web site has information on their hours and fees.
Search Alexandria City Dockets.
Alexandria Interactive GIS Maps
These are easy to use searchable maps targeted to specific exploration and discover needs.
Virginia Memory’s Chancery Records Index
Offers a unique glimpse into the lives of Virginians from the early 18th century through the First World War.